Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Hillary 2.0

(Cross-posted at MyDD)

When William Jefferson Clinton was elected president, I was still a young girl living with parents who were determined (especially my father) to instill in me a love for the Republican Party, and a sneering disdain for Democrats in general. I grew up around Right wing radio and Fox News (first launched in 1996). I was supposed to detest Bill Clinton and scoff at his wife. I remember when Hillary made her infamous "baking cookies" remark and did her amusing impression of Tammy Wynette's accent. I remember because I giggled delightedly and beamed at her - and because my father chastised me immediately. But I liked her, and I couldn't help it - and at the time, I liked Bill even more. When my father asked me who I wanted for president, I told him I wanted "the friendly one," much to his dismay. As the 1992 election results rolled in, I sat directly in front of the TV with an irrepressible grin on my face, while my parents emitted exasperated sighs from the other side of the room.

For whatever reason, the Republican party never appealed to me - something about it was offensive, and despite my father's best attempts, I never embraced conservative values. I had the  upbringing of a conservative, the "bleeding heart" of a liberal, and the defiant mind of an Independent, but I would be lying if I pretended that a certain amount of Republican propaganda didn't seep into my head. I would sit in my father's office and play computer games or read as Rush Limbaugh'a barking rants spewed forth from the radio. As a result, I eventually came to strongly dislike Hillary Clinton; Bill seldom bothered me, but his wife... she was just so cold and, well, bitchy. Even as I rejected my parents' conservative beliefs, I couldn't help disliking her, and my annoyance became so deeply ingrained that when she first began her run for the presidency - approximately 14 years after I'd first laid eyes on her - I shook my head and turned up my nose at her candidacy. She was cold, she was calculating, she was bitchy, she was dishonest, she was power hungry: She was the one candidate I could rule out at the beginning.

It took me a good while to warm up to her, and when I finally realized the source of my animosity, I was rightly horrified. She'd been demonized by the Right - perhaps even moreso than her husband - and I'd inadvertently bought into it. What's worse, I'd bought into it on a sexist basis: The Right had painted a strong woman as a bitch, and I'd silently nodded, as had much of the rest of the country.

And now we have another strong woman for the Right to attack. They long ago began the process of vilifying Michelle Obama, and it's largely because she's as strong, affluent, and brilliant as her husband. If we think Hillary was demonized, we haven't seen anything yet; Michelle will be fighting a two front war - she will be attacked on both her race and her gender. (Canadian gal has written an excellent analysis on the sexism Hillary and Michelle have faced.) They will try to demean her and reduce her to nothing more than an angry black woman:

"I want to pick up on something that James said about the "angry black woman". Now look at the image of African American women who are on television. Politically, you have Maxine Waters of California, a liberal Democrat. She's always angry, every time she gets on television. Cynthia McKinney, the former congresswoman from Georgia was another angry black woman. And who are the black women you see on the local news at night in cities all over the country? They're usually angry about something. They've had a son who's been shot in a drive by shooting, they are angry at Bush, or something. So you don't really have a profile of non-angry black women. . ." - asshole Fox guy whose name I don't know

Well, our racist, sexist Faux friend backed off that last statement a moment later, when one of his buddies pointed out that Oprah isn't particularly angry: "Oh, yeah, Oprah, there you go." Apparently, Oprah Winfrey is the only African American woman in this country who isn't angry (but don't forget black - they're all black!). This is one of the worst forms of discrimination because it's subtle enough to slip under the radar of those who aren't paying enough attention, and the phrase "angry black woman" just screams "uppity". The Faux correspondent's disdain for black women who are upset about their children being shot is shocking - I suppose the conventional wisdom is that African Americans should smile, shut up, and accept their misfortunes like good little negroes. God forbid black people should criticize Bush - only white folks are allowed to do that.

I was at my parents house the night that clip was playing, and I'm usually able to ignore the fact that they're watching Fox. When we heard that racist bile spewing forth from the TV, however, my mother's jaw dropped, and my father said, "Maybe we could watch the Clinton News Network... just this once." Frankly, I was pleased with how embarrassed they were by their favorite network's "fair and balanced" commentary. There are decent, intelligent Republicans who refuse to condone such bigotry, but it's easy for this sort of racially charged rhetoric to subconsciously creep into the minds of the young, ignorant, or uninformed. And let's not forget that Faux thought it was perfectly appropriate to put the racist/sexist caption, "Outraged Liberals: Stop Picking On Obama's Baby Mama," beneath a clip of Michelle:

That's right, those silly liberals are always outraged, aren't they? Maybe it's because they're offended by outrageous displays of sexism and racism, like the time Mr. Fair and Balanced himself passively suggested we start a lynching party to hunt down Michelle. Ahhh, nothing more appropriate than a fair and balanced lynching remark. I realize there's a certain appeal in denying BillO the satisfaction of knowing he's "gotten under our skin," but there's also a certain amount of danger in allowing comments of this nature go unchallenged. The aforementioned remarks were made long ago, and if you didn't express your outrage then, it's rather late to do so now. In the future, we mustn't let our outrage go unspoken or unacknowledged. We must raise our voices loudly, with reason and composure, and decry the bigotry which will follow Michelle Obama for the next eight years. Speak out against hate, speak out against propaganda, speak out against injustice. Clinton supporters, we defended Hillary against sexist attacks, and Michelle certainly deserves the same consideration. A sexist attack on Michelle is an attack on all women, a racist attack on Michelle is an attack on all African Americans.

Just as Hillary became an icon to so many Americans, so will Michelle (many would argue that she already has). She will be yet another powerful First Lady that the Right loves to hate, and for that alone she should be applauded. There is no doubt that the Right will treat her just as they treated Hillary, but like Hillary, I believe Michelle will rise above it. They are both women of great intelligence, character, and influence, and Michelle will stand as strong in the face of adversity as Hillary always has.


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